Of all classic Gibson electrics, the Firebird is often one of the most overlooked. Why? Well, for one: it’s not a Les Paul. Two: it wasn’t part of the groundbreaking Modernistic Series of 1958 (the Flying V, the Explorer, and the legendary Modern itself).

No, the Firebird emerged later, in 1963 – something of a strange period in music when the first flush of rock’n’rollers had faded, blues-rock had yet to really take a hold and, if anything, “pop” reigned supreme. How would such a dramatic looking beast fit in?

Johnny Winter holding a Gibson Firebird

It’s true that the initial line might have confused the guitar playing public, and its “reverse” body style – despite being by auto design legend Ray Dietrich – was soon changed to the “non-reverse” lines from 1963-69. But behind that bold exterior, the Firebird had some truly innovative features.

It was the first Gibson solidbody to use through-neck construction, wherein the neck extended to the tail end of the body. The neck itself was made up of five plies of mahogany interspersed with four narrow strips of walnut. Other features (on the original) were the reverse headstock and “banjo”-style tuning keys, plus smaller mini-humbuckers that revealed their own edgy tone. Some Firebirds from 1965 featured Gibson’s single-coil P-90 pickup for even more rawness.

The Firebird never really went away – huge names such as Eric Clapton, Johnny Winter, Stephen Still, Brian Jones and Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Allen Collins were devotees in the ‘60s and ‘70s – but it’s taken a while to rise again. In 2018, the Firebird comes in an enviable range to suits all tastes and pockets. Here they are...

Firebird 2018

This is close to the original ‘Bird, but with all the improvements that time brings. A pair of bright, cutting mini-humbuckers give this Firebird its outstanding sound and there are many original design elements retained: the neck-thru construction, classic Gibson chromed hardware, reverse headstock, and trapezoid inlays in a luxurious bound torrefied Granadillo fingerboard. For 2018, the Firebird boasts a rare Ebony finish on the body and headstock. Right down to the black/silver top hat knobs, it’s got a beautifully sleek look. Hardshell case is standard, and it comes as a left-hander too.

Gibson Firebird

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Firebird Studio 2018

2017 Firebird Studios came with full-footprint humbuckers, but Gibson knows that a lot of players like Firebirds for that throaty roar. So now the 2018 Firebird Studio comes with two P-90s. It’s a simpler construction that the “full” model, too: no thru-neck, but a one-piece mahogany body. The stripped-back aesthetic means dot inlays on that Granadillo fingerboard, and the headstock is “non-reverse” (ie, standard). But it doesn’t skimp on classy touches, such as the contrasting stain on that slim taper all-mahogany neck. For a sleek update on a classic at a very affordable price, this could be your first Firebird. Hardshell case is standard, and it again comes as a left-hander.

Gibson Firebird

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Firebird Custom

Launched earlier in 2017, the limited run Firebird Custom is the “Black Beauty” of the ‘Birds. Alongside other recent Gibson Custom models in this luxurious Ebony livery, the Firebird Custom comes with bound body and neck, block pearl inlays on a Richlite fingerboard, gold hardware and black speed knobs. Bling. The body is all-mahogany, again, but it’s flat and without the raised center block of the original ‘60s Firebirds. This one also has full-sized 490R and 498T humbuckers, making it akin to the finest Les Paul Custom in Firebird guise. Gibson Custom hardshell case, of course, but there were only 200 made. See if you can find one. They are absolutely killer.

Gibson Firebird

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Gibson Custom Slash Firebird

And the boldest of all ‘Birds is the new Slash signature model. This is a superb, bespoke blend of classic design and new thinking from the Guns N’ Roses legend. Everyone knows that Slash is a Les Paul guy to the core, and he incorporates his favorite Les Paul elements in a classic Firebird template: full-size signature Seymour Duncan humbuckers, historic Les Paul wiring and pickup spacing, and even a solid-figured maple cap. Old-school style, you get banjo style tuners, plus a rosewood fingerboard and trapezoid inlays on this. Both the unique Trans White and Trans Black finishes are hand-aged with vintage-accurate checking and wear by the Gibson Custom Shop and with only 25 of each being made, these Slash Firebirds are instantly some of the most collectible artist models Gibson Custom has ever created.

Gibson Firebird

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There will still be 2017 models online and in stores – from the entry-level Firebird Zero / Series to signature models for Skunk Baxter and Elliott Easton – so be sure to try your favorite.